NORTHERN IRELAND – OPERATION BANNER VETERANS – 9 July 2018
Dr Julian Lewis: May I urge the Secretary of State to realise that the protagonists in this bitter debate are sometimes trapped by their own rhetoric? The truth of the matter is that one side wants there to be an amnesty for one group of people, but not the other, and the other side wants the reverse. If she likes, she can come to the conclusion that there is no support for a drawing of the line for everyone, or she could conclude that it is up to the Government to take a lead and draw the line for everyone in the knowledge that those who cannot speak out for that policy could nevertheless live with it.
[The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Karen Bradley): My right hon. Friend feels strongly about this matter and has considered it in depth in his role as Chair of the Defence Committee, which has started a new piece of work on it. In my discussions with representatives of veterans and victims groups in Northern Ireland, the firm view that this was not the time for amnesties. I well understand and will discuss the steps that could be taken, but I caution him about his interpretation of the comments that he has heard. That was not what I saw with my own eyes or in the evidence that I have received, but I understand his view. We are consulting, which I will come on to in a moment, and I would welcome the Defence Committee’s views on the consultation. I am also happy to work with him on the inquiry that he has started.
Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson: To echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) and for the sake of clarity, this debate is not between two sides that want an amnesty. For the record, the DUP does not support an amnesty for anyone connected with Northern Ireland. We do support a statute of limitations, which is not an amnesty. This House should never equate the men and women who stood on the frontline – I had the privilege of standing beside them – with those who skulked in the shadows. That is not what this debate is about.]
Dr Lewis: Just for the sake of clarity, the Defence Committee has never used the word “amnesty” and has always used the phrase “statute of limitations”. However, the point I made earlier applies equally if that phrase is substituted for “amnesty”. One party, as it were, wants it for one side but not the other, and vice versa. It is disappointing that the Government’s response to the Committee’s report was originally going to have a special section in its consultation exercise to consider the possibility of a statute of limitations, but they went back on that pledge that had been given in writing in their response to our report.
[Karen Bradley: I am of course happy to discuss the matter again with my right hon. Friend. He is absolutely right that the language and terminology that are used are incredibly important in this debate. With a statute of limitations, we tested this with political parties, victims groups, veterans groups and others in Northern Ireland. To be legal, there would have to be a statute of limitations on both sides, and it would have to include a proper process of reconciliation. We were unable to find representative bodies that were able to accept that as a conclusion. It would therefore have been misleading to put it as an alternative approach in the consultation document – I make it clear that this is on a specific consultation on setting up the institutions agreed at the Stormont House talks. ...]
[For Julian's speech in this debate click here.]